The Ford S-MAX people carrier proves that a practical seven-seater needn’t look like a bus or be dull to drive. Although the S-MAX was introduced back in 2006 (and facelifted in 2010), it's still the best MPV behind the wheel, and its interior is every bit as spacious and versatile as rivals’ such as the Peugeot 5008 and Renault Grand Scenic.
They are cheaper to buy, though – as is the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso, which is also better equipped for the money. However, you can reduce the hit with a good purchase discount, which should be easier to come by as dealers clear stock for the arrival of the all-new S-MAX in 2015.
As in most rivals, the five rear seats in the Ford S-MAX can each be folded individually to suit your needs; the second-row seats slide and recline, too, and folding them all flat frees up enough luggage space to rival a van. The third-row seats are cramped, however, so if you regularly need to seat adults there, consider the bigger Ford Galaxy or SEAT Alhambra.
The engine line-up comprises Ford's punchy EcoBoost petrol engines and efficient TDCi diesels. We’d choose one of the latter; the 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel, in particular, is both gutsy and economical, promising a decent 53mpg. It also costs just a few hundred pounds more than the 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel, which feels underpowered and is no more efficient. The stronger 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel, meanwhile, comes only in mid-range Titanium trim, so it costs an extra £2,500. The automatic gearbox is smooth and effective, and only slightly reduces fuel economy.
Most owners will find everything they need in entry-level Zetec trim, including front and rear parking sensors and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Titanium brings a DAB digital radio and the option to choose a £1,400 touchscreen sat nav, but costs a lot more. Titanium X Sport adds leather, various sporty details and lower suspension.
All S-MAX models have plenty of airbags and a five-star Euro NCAP rating. Traction and electronic stability control are standard on all models, and there are optional safety features, too.